Despite the name’s implied simplicity, the Farm Bill is a collection of a wide range of polices. By cobbling together policy priorities for rural, urban and even suburban constituencies into a single piece of legislation, legislators can more readily build support for a bill that may otherwise lack appeal to Members of Congress who represent constituencies unaffected by specific provisions. Some of the polices folded into this behemoth of a bill are conservation initiatives.
The Farm Bill provides $4 billion a year in federal funding for land trusts and other conservation initiatives, making it the single largest source of such funds. In fact, the 2008 bill included over $23 billion in funds that directly or indirectly helped with wildlife habitat and water preservation and restoration. While it is easy to look at the bill’s name and assume that agricultural land is the primary focus of the bill, the reality is that all types of lands – public and private – have applicable provisions somewhere in the bill.
The nature of these various programs, combined of course with poverty reduction programs like SNAP, make this a piece of legislation that is steeped in Jewish tradition. Genesis calls on us to “till and guard” the earth (Genesis 2:15). The Farm Bill is about preserving (guarding) the earth as well as funding and establishing programs for farming (tilling). This commandment and, of course, our obligation to help the most vulnerable members of our society require us to support key provisions of the Farm Bill and work toward its expedited passage.
Image courtesy of USDA.